By Mike Antich

Idling for longer periods of time, whether at a job site, railroad crossing, or pulling off the road to make a cell phone call, consumes gasoline that could be saved by simply turning off the engine. If you want to green your fleet by reducing emissions, you need to decrease fuel consumption. The easiest way to do so is to decrease unnecessary idling. For example, every gallon of gasoline burned idling creates 19.5 lbs. of CO2. Similarly, every unnecessary gallon of diesel burned creates 22.4 lbs. of CO2.

Until the advent of telematics devices, idling was not perceived to be a major problem for fleets. But once engine data was captured by fleets on a large-scale basis, it quickly became apparent that idling represented a significant problem. The amount of unnecessary idling varies by fleet, but some fleets have recorded idling as much as 35 percent of the time.

Eliminating an hour of idling per day will result in a significant cost savings and emissions reductions over the course of a year. For fleets operating Class 3 and larger trucks, the savings are even more significant. For example, a typical truck fleet burns a half-gallon of diesel fuel for every hour a truck idles, and, in the process, adding the equivalent of 40 miles of wear-and-tear to the engine.

A Growing Fleet Trend

Reducing unnecessary idling is the simplest and easiest way for a fleet to reduce fuel costs and unnecessary emissions. In addition, excess idling also causes needless engine wear-and-tear and unnecessary noise pollution. A typical goal for many fleets is to reduce engine idling time to less than 5 percent, which is measured using onboard telematics devices.
Many fleets have implemented anti-idling initiatives.

Sears, which operates a fleet of 11,000-plus owned and leased vehicles, has implemented a no-idling policy for all vehicles at the distribution facilities for Sears Holdings Logistics Services. Similarly, Illinois-based ComEd (Commonwealth Edison Co.) is engaged a major effort to reduce idling among its fleet of 3,100 vehicles. According to ComEd, if vehicle idling were reduced by one hour per day among all ComEd fleet vehicles, it could annually eliminate an estimated 4.5 million lbs. of carbon dioxide emissions and save $724,000 in fuel costs.

Many fleets implement anti-idling programs using the "big stick" approach. However, the best (and most effective) way to achieve sustainable long-term results is through driver education. By modifying driver behavior, you make your employees "greener" drivers. However, educating drivers is not as easy as it sounds.

Some drivers mistakenly believe that frequently starting and stopping an engine uses more gasoline and causes additional wear-and-tear on the vehicle. This may have been a legitimate concern in the past, but, with today's fuel-injection engines, starting systems are more efficient and don't require as much fuel to restart an engine.

Another common reason for excess idling is to operate an air conditioning system, so a driver can stay cool in the summer, or to operate a heater to stay warm in the winter. Fleet managers struggle with this form of idling because they want to reduce fuel costs and emissions, but not at the expense of driver morale. The reality is that for many employees, their vehicles are also their offices. It is up to the driver to exercise proper discretion.

Turn Off the Engine

An anti-idling program encourages drivers to turn off their engines when the vehicle is not moving. Restarting an engine uses about the same amount of gasoline as an engine idling for 30 seconds. When idling for longer than 30 seconds, instruct your drivers to turn off the engine. However, be aware that turning off the engine may also disable safety features, such as air bags. Drivers should be certain to utilize this strategy only in situations where there is no possibility of collision.

A growing number of fleets are using telematics as the most cost-effective tool to curb "fuelish" behavior. One example is Genuine Parts, which determined drivers were idling company trucks two to three hours per day. Its drivers make 12-15 stops and deliveries per evening. They idle engines 15-20 minutes at each stop for a combination of reasons. Drivers typically want to maintain cab climate comfort, but many also feared frequent tailgate use would run down the battery if the engine wasn't running. However, this proved to be a false concern. A test by the company's liftgate installer determined liftgates could actually be cycled 14 times before the battery ran down.

Anti-idling programs are not only being implemented by private fleets, but also the public sector. A growing number of municipal fleets are looking to curb idling to reduce fuel costs and cut tailpipe emissions. For instance, 31 states currently have some sort of existing regulations pertaining to anti-idling.

Of these states, California has the most codes and regulations. The California Air Resources Board has enacted numerous regulations that regulate vehicle idling in the state. However, excessive idling is defined and regulated differently around the country. For example, in Virginia, the excessive idling threshold is 10 minutes, while in some Western states, such as Hawaii, no idling is permitted when a vehicle is stationary in a loading zone, service area, or parked.

In the final analysis, a vehicle gets 0 miles per gallon when idling and needlessly releases emissions into the atmosphere.

Let me know what you think.

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About the author
Mike Antich

Mike Antich

Former Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Global Fleet of Hal in 2022. He also won the Industry Icon Award, presented jointly by the IARA and NAAA industry associations.

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